On Monday, following the recent mass killings in Charlottesville, Boise and Colorado Springs (my home town), we asked for your take on reducing violence in society. This is not just a gun issue. It’s a societal issue. The United States is rated the 42nd most violent country in the world using the Peace Index from World Population Review.
We framed the issue as part of an ongoing struggle with mental illness even before Covid-19, and the lockdowns only worsened our collective health. It seems as if we have been collectively traumatized. We asked:
With the holiday season upon us, what can we do now to make 2023 a happier, healthier, less violent year?
More specifically ...
- What are the underlying causes of the violence?
- If we are suffering from collective trauma, how do we heal that trauma?
- What steps can we take as a society to turn people away from violence?
Below is a sample of responses. On a curious note – we normally receive 80 percent of our responses from men. This week, our respondents were 60 percent from women. On average, the responses we received were also much longer than normal. We’ve done our best to capture the essence of longer replies, editing for length and clarity.
Suzanne St. John-Crane:
- Hopelessness. Fear. Mental illness.
- Philanthropy and the public sector need to invest in healing circles - Truth and Reconciliation model, time and space to practice listening.
- Love your neighbor, pay attention, serve the least of our brothers and sisters.
I teach African-American and Latino history in an adult education program in Connecticut.
- The violence that we are seeing in our country is an offshoot from failed Reconstruction after the Civil War. It is based in hatred, bigotry and fear. Many of us have been brainwashed or subject to “coercive persuasion” to believe that it is good to own guns and that guns are okay for everyone.
- I believe we suffer from collective trauma. Some suffer more than others. I believe that the Trump presidency was traumatic along with the Covid pandemic. Both caused our country to change. Acknowledging the changes and grieving them is one way to recover.
- Turning people away from violence can be difficult when people have decided that violence is the answer to their problems. When they now believe that their group memberships and gun ownership makes them stronger, thus helping them to feel empowered. The CDC has released a pamphlet that provides some guidelines for helping youth turn away from violence. Education is a major key. Community building. A feeling of belonging within the neighborhood, family or school. Help children to feel safe. Etc.
The biggest propagator of violence in our country is the current radicalized version of free speech. Speech fFree of all consequences" allows hurtful, hate-based language and opinions to flourish and spread like a Covid-19 of mental health. Now that radical groups cry oppression every time their bigoted views are silenced, the rest of us have decided to tiptoe on ice instead of shutting them down and standing up to them. Our kids and anyone at a mentally unstable point in their life are bombarded with hateful language or see others suffering from it. Things like pressuring suicide, threatening murder, and ideas of supremacy or "natural order" that dictates who gets to live and who dies take hold in a vulnerable mind and cause equally violent actions; an equal and opposite reaction. Groups of radicalized individuals have turned our right to freedom of speech (from government interference) into "freedom from any criticism or consequences."
In order to successfully combat this, every single person who is able to needs to decide today, right now, to stand up when they hear someone else being targeted by disgusting supremacist beliefs. In doing so one person sends a message to the entire audience that this "freedom of speech" has consequences. A social movement of intolerance of hateful speech starts with a decision everyone can make right now. Will you say "stop" to someone whose speech is intentionally harming someone? In a checkout line will you turn around and simply say "no" to someone behind you making comments about the inferior person behind them? Will you sit with and distract someone who’s being screamed at for their religion? Will you report hateful comments online and uplift the victim for being their own beautifully unique selves? Do something.
Teaching men that anger is usually covering up sadness and fear, and that it is ok to feel sadness and fear.
- Mental health issues; violence within the family or other dysfunctional family issues; living in a violent neighborhood; poverty, especially in large urban environments; peer pressure; lack of educational and economic opportunities.
- There is collective trauma from living in violent communities.
- Getting our political representatives to confront the issue of the violence guns cause and to have them work on getting regulations in place. We need to regulate the gun industry as we do the car industry – insurance, training, licensing, and, like auto manufacturers, make it mandatory that gun manufacturers create safer guns as cars have been made safer. Then within the communities most impacted by violence, strong, guided educational opportunities from a young age; giving the community resources to combat some of the internal issues of the community; finding ways of engaging and training the community to be proactive in their communities against violence
Democrats are soft on crime after it happens, and Republicans are soft on eliminating the conditions for crime before it happens. It would be funny except that the U.S. has a crime rate about three times that of Britain or Canada. While there is some debate about the World Bank's income disparity Gini Coefficient one thing is clear, the U.S. government estimates the annual cost of crime to be between $600 billion and $1.4 trillion a year.
Here’s the sad punchline: Liberals recoil at cutting corporate taxes, and conservatives recoil at increasing the EITC — but they are essentially the same solution. The true cause of crime in this country is polarization.
It seems to me that the way to stem violence is to do all that we can to ensure that everyone has a chance for success, however one defines it. That starts with strong schools and a better social support system; i.e., better health care, affordable housing, job opportunities, food security. More jails and more police just treat the symptoms. More guns only exacerbate the problem. We need to look at the causes of violence and I am convinced that a lack of opportunity and an inadequate social safety network are at the root of violence. Of course, family values and social values play a big role. Like Bob Dylan said, "If you ain't got nothin' you got nothin' to lose."
Lee Shull (with a note about his friends whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting):
What are the underlying causes of violence? I often tell people it's not rocket science ... it's harder. The laws of physics govern rocket science, whereas understanding what causes people to be violent is extremely complex and not governed by laws of science; we're dealing with people and the complexities of the brain. Part of the complexity is whether we're talking about violence to others or violence to self (suicide), and there will be different reasons for each type of violence. Regarding violence to others, we need to dig deeper into our fear of "the other" and what they represent to us, e.g., fear of a multicultural society, fear of different viewpoints, fear of losing something (money, status, identity, etc.).
I think we suffer from collective trauma, whether due to any number or combination of Covid, mass shootings, hate crimes, or our divisive politics and rhetoric. Part of healing that trauma lies with minimizing it and working through it, understanding it may never subside, but we can strive to cope with it. I honestly don't know how to heal that trauma, but I suggest a start, decreasing the divisions in our society while increasing community and inclusion. We all have challenges that, to each of us, are the hardest things we've faced. Being more curious and less judgemental allows for grace in other people. I often use the phrase "moving from 'me' to 'we'" and the image of a raindrop in a puddle. If we can each reflect on our thoughts and behaviors and be kinder to and less judgemental of others, we can extend that out, like ripples to our family, friends, co-workers and community.
And given the daily reminder of mass shootings, the latest in Virginia just days ago, I forgot to mention that we need to address the following:
- Why these mass shootings are almost all by white men.
- Strict regulations on the weapons of war (and body armor) that have made it into our homes and everyday society.
Jim and Patsy Coldren
Until we, as a nation, can put resources into determining the answer to (1) we can go nowhere to answer (2) or (3).